Google fights back against proposed Australian anti-trust law

US tech giant says user data may be at risk if forced to pay for content; regulator accuses firm of ‘misinformation’.

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The ACCC called for sweeping changes to rein in how Google and Facebook use local content and consumer data [File: Dado Ruvic/Reuters]

United States-based internet giant Google has criticised proposed Australian antitrust laws, saying its free search service would be “at risk” and users’ personal data could be shared if it is made to pay news organisations for their content.

The Alphabet-owned company said the proposed laws would also help big media companies artificially inflate their search rankings, luring more viewers to their platforms and giving them an unfair advantage over small publishers and users of Google’s YouTube streaming website.

The statement, advertised on Google’s main search page, marks an escalation of tensions between big tech companies and the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) which has called for sweeping changes to rein in how Google and social media titan Facebook Inc use local content and consumer data.

“You’ve always relied on Google Search and YouTube to show you what’s most relevant and helpful to you,” Google Australia Managing Director Mel Silva wrote in the open letter. “We could no longer guarantee that under this law.”

The proposed law “wouldn’t just impact the way Google and YouTube work with news media businesses – it would impact all of our Australian users” she wrote.

The proposal to force technology firms to pay traditional media for content is the first of its sort anywhere in the world.

Last month, Australia’s Treasurer Josh Frydenberg announced the “mandatory code of conduct” to govern relations between the struggling news industry and US social media and search firms after 18 months of negotiations failed to bring the two sides together.

‘Fair payment’

Under the plan, the tech giants will have to negotiate with Australian media companies to use their content. The code also covers issues like access to user data, transparency of algorithms and ranking of content in the platforms’ news feeds and search results.

It will include “substantial penalties” that could cost the tech companies hundreds of millions of dollars, Frydenberg said at the time.

The ACCC accused Google on Monday of publishing “misinformation” and said the laws would not require the US company to charge Australians for its services or share any personal data.

The proposed law would “allow Australian news businesses to negotiate for fair payment for their journalists’ work that is included on Google services”, ACCC chair Rod Sims said in a statement.

“This will address a significant bargaining power imbalance between Australian news media businesses and Google and Facebook,” he added.

Source: Reuters